KARACHI: On April 17, 2018, the Sindh Anti-Corruption Department initiated an investigation into the misappropriation of funds meant for projects, worth Rs8.5 billion, under which solar lights were to be installed in public spaces across the province.
In the wake of notices taken by the Supreme Court-mandated Water Commission, the then assistant director, Ashraf Hussain Soomro, of the Sindh Anti-Corruption Department’s West Zone II raided the director-general’s office of the Rural Development Department in Hyderabad and seized all records of the projects, including vouchers of payments made to contractors. Included among these were voucher files of Thatta, Sujjawal, Mirpurkhas, Shahdad Kot, Shaheed Benazirabad, Umar Kot, Jamshoro and Larkana districts.
At the time, details of the raid and any irregularities in the payments were not made public. Based on The Express Tribune‘s investigation, however, details have come to light which point toward significant embezzlement of funds by various government agencies and officials.
Of the three projects worth Rs8.5 billion, contracts worth over Rs7 billion rupees were awarded to just one company, Wadood Engineering Limited, during the tenure of former local government minister, Sharjeel Inam Memon. Former provincial caretaker minister for local government, Muhammad Jaffar Khawaja, is a member of the company’s board of directors. The company was subjected to even more endearment as it fronted Rs1.5 billion as advance payment.
The matter dates back to September 22, 2014, when the Sindh government approved the first project, Roshan Sindh, to install 20,000 solar lights by June 2016 in the major municipal and town committees across the province at a cost of Rs4 billion.
In reality, street lights that run on solar energy were installed on specific roads of certain cities, while the majority of the areas were ignored. Originally, 1,000 solar lights were to be installed in districts Malir and West of Karachi, 4,000 in Hyderabad division, 3,500 each in Mirpurkhas and Shaheed Benazirabad, 4,000 in Sukkur and as many in Larkana. This project also turned out to be the costliest of them all, with each of the installed solar bulbs costing Rs0.2 million.
The second project, estimated at Rs3 billion, was meant to install solar lights in rural areas. This project was approved on the October 26, 2016, and was supposed to be completed by June 2018. According to statistics compiled by the departments of finance and planning and development, Rs925 million were allocated for project in the fiscal year, 2017-18. The entire amount had been spent by December 5, 2017.
The third project, with a price tag of Rs1.5 billion, was touted as the second phase of the earlier scheme to install solar lights in rural areas. Around Rs750 million rupees were spent by the beginning of the current year. According to government records, this project had to be completed by 2020, but after the initiation of investigation by the anti-corruption department, work on this project has been halted.
According to RDD sources, serious misappropriations have been found in all three projects. Citing complaints received from Mirpurkhas and other cities, the source said that the solar lights have only been installed on routes frequented by government officials and members of national and provincial assemblies, besides the offices of heads of local government institutions.
For his part, the Anti-Corruption Department’s West Zone director Khalid Mustafa Korai told The Express Tribune that the investigation was in its initial stages and that nothing could be said about the case for now. The RDD’s secretary Dr Riaz Memon refused to comment. Meanwhile, The Express Tribune called the offices of Wadood Engineering Limited on their listed numbers and was told by the receptionist that all the company’s board members were currently out of the country. A company official, Ahsan, agreed to have them call back once they returned but despite the passage of several days, no contact has been made yet.